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TIMELINE Vespasian: The Path To Power

Vespasian leading his forces against the Jewish revolt, a miniature in a 1470 illuminated manuscript version of the history of Josephus

Vespasian (/vɛˈspeɪʒ(i)ən, -ziən/; Latin: Titus Flavius Vespasianus; 17 November 9– 24 June 79 AD) was Roman emperor from 69–79, the fourth, and last, in the Year of the Four Emperors. He founded the Flavian dynasty that ruled the Empire for 27 years.

Vespasian was the first emperor who hailed from an equestrian family and only rose into the senatorial rank as the first member of his family later in his lifetime. Vespasian's renown came from his military success; he was legate of Legio II Augusta during the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 and subjugated Judaea during the Jewish rebellion of 66.

Map of the Roman Empire during the Year of the Four Emperors (69). Blue areas indicate provinces loyal to Vespasian and Gaius Licinius Mucianus.

While Vespasian besieged Jerusalem during the Jewish rebellion, emperor Nero committed suicide and plunged Rome into a year of civil war known as the Year of the Four Emperors. After Galba and Otho perished in quick succession, Vitellius became emperor in April 69. The Roman legions of Roman Egypt and Judaea reacted by declaring Vespasian, their commander, emperor on 1 July 69. In his bid for imperial power, Vespasian joined forces with Mucianus, the governor of Syria, and Primus, a general in Pannonia, leaving his son Titus to command the besieging forces at Jerusalem. Primus and Mucianus led the Flavian forces against Vitellius, while Vespasian took control of Egypt. On 20 December 69, Vitellius was defeated, and the following day Vespasian was declared emperor by the Senate.

Little information survives about the government during Vespasian's ten-year rule. He reformed the financial system of Rome after the campaign against Judaea ended successfully, and initiated several ambitious construction projects, including the building of the Flavian Amphitheatre, better known today as the Roman Colosseum. Through his general Agricola, Vespasian increased imperial expansion in Britain. After his death in 79, he was succeeded by his eldest son Titus, thus becoming the first Roman emperor to be directly succeeded by his own natural son and establishing the Flavian dynasty.

Propaganda campaign

We know from Suetonius that the "unexpected and still quite new emperor was lacking auctoritas [English: backing, support] and a certain maiestas [English: majesty]". Many modern historians note the increased amount of propaganda that appeared during Vespasian's reign. Stories of a supernatural emperor who was destined to rule circulated in the empire. Nearly one-third of all coins minted in Rome under Vespasian celebrated military victory or peace. The word vindex was removed from coins so as not to remind the public of rebellious Vindex. Construction projects bore inscriptions praising Vespasian and condemning previous emperors. A temple of peace was constructed in the forum as well. Vespasian approved histories written under his reign, ensuring biases against him were removed.

Vespasian also gave financial rewards to writers. The ancient historians who lived through the period such as Tacitus, Suetonius, Josephus and Pliny the Elder speak suspiciously well of Vespasian while condemning the emperors who came before him. Tacitus admits that his status was elevated by Vespasian, Josephus identifies Vespasian as a patron and savior, and Pliny dedicated his Natural Histories to Vespasian's son, Titus.

Those who spoke against Vespasian were punished. A number of Stoic philosophers were accused of corrupting students with inappropriate teachings and were expelled from Rome. Helvidius Priscus, a pro-Republic philosopher, was executed for his teachings. Numerous other philosophers and writers have had their works seized, destroyed and denounced for being deemed too critical of Vespasian's reign, some even posthumously.


To the victor goes the spoils. The greatest spoil is the history. It is written by the victor to enslave those who follow after. They seldom even realise that they are enslaved to a past they never knew or understood. It appears Josephus created the religion to counter that of the Jews separating them from God forever with the stroke of a pen. 

"When Vespasian sent for Helvidius Priscus and commanded him not to go into the senate, he replied, "It is in your power not to allow me to be a member of the senate, but so long as I am, I must go in." "Well, go in then," says the emperor, "but say nothing." "Do not ask my opinion, and I will be silent." "But I must ask your opinion." "And I must say what I think right." "But if you do, I shall put you to death." "When then did I tell you that I am immortal? You will do your part, and I will do mine: it is your part to kill; it is mine to die, but not in fear: yours to banish me; mine to depart without sorrow." Epictetus, Discourses, 1.2.19-21

Posted by George Freund on February 8, 2019 at 9:32 PM 69 Views